Michael: Russian ban on American adoption endangers orphans’ well-being

The death of Max Shatto – a 3-year-old, Russian-born orphan – prompted questions to resurface over the Russian adoption ban. Informally referred to as the Dima Yarkovlev Bill, the law bans Americans from adopting Russian orphans and prohibits American citizens with human rights violations from entering or holding land in Russia. The bill, which was sold on the 19 Russian adoptees that died by neglect or abuse by their American adoptive parents, will only hurt the Russian children most in need of help.

Dima Yarkovlev, the child after whom the legislation is named, was one such case. His American foster father left him in the car for nine hours and he died of heat stroke. The adoptive father, Miles Harrison, testified that on the way to the day care he stopped at the dry cleaners, took several calls and forgot his 21-month-old son was in the car as he made his way into work. Much to the chagrin of Russian officials, Harrison was acquitted of involuntary manslaughter charges.

In reality, the Dima Yarkovlev Bill is politics as usual. Russian officials passed their legislation in response to the Magnistky Act, which was signed into law in December 2012. The Magnistsky Act returned trade relations with the former communist superpower to normal, but sought to punish Russian officials implicated in human rights violations, specifically related to the death of Sergei Magnistky in 2009.

Disingenuous as the bill’s origin may have been, there were some legitimate grievances on the deaths of those 19 – now 20 with Shatto – Russian children, as well as the adequacy of American parents. In 2010, a 7-year-old Russian boy was sent on a plane to Moscow with a note from his adoptive mother saying, “After giving my best to this child, I am sorry to say that for the safety of my family, friends and myself, I no longer wish to parent this child.”

Max Shatto’s case is still up in the air for now, and Russian officials have distanced themselves from earlier claims of abuse and murder. Still, the law stands, and it has raised serious questions on the fate of Russia’s orphans. Over the 20-year period prior to the Dima Yarkovlev Bill, upwards of 60,000 Russian children without a home found one under the roof of American adoptive parents. Hundreds of foreign adoptions in the U.S. came from Russia each year, third behind Ethiopia and China.

The country to suffer most from the Dima Yarkovlev Bill won’t be the U.S., but Russia. American parents hoping to adopt abroad will go to those lengths in other countries. There is a sense of shame pervading Russia that it cannot handle its own orphan problem, and instead need to send them off to foreign countries. While the U.S. was the only country targeted in the bill, it counted for a large chunk of adoptions out of Russia, many of which were for children with special needs. Dima Yarkovlev himself suffered from fetal alcohol syndrome.

Frankly, there isn’t much for the U.S. to do in response. The government has said its piece in the Magnistky Bill regarding Russia’s human rights violations – of which an overwhelming majority in the House and Senate approved – and our country won’t be the one to suffer from Russia’s petty retaliation. All the U.S. and those parents in the final stages of adopting Russian children can do is hope that Moscow might realize its own mistake as the situation gets worse, and stop putting politics in the way of children’s well-being.